Fall is the perfect time to plan your trip to the beautiful Western North Carolina region. Nestled in the foothills of the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is a great starting point for exploring various daytrips throughout the region. A huge lineup of seasonal events, vibrant fall foliage, scenic drives, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, mild weather, waterfalls galore – all these factors contribute to the WNC area becoming more and more popular with leaf peepers and adventure lovers with each passing year.
As soon as the summer season wanes down, the forests begin to show a dazzling palette of colors. Nature lovers and artists from around the world come here to soak up the beauty of the autumn hues and breathe in the cool fresh mountain air. Because of the diversity of elevations in the area, the WNC region sees one of the longest lasting fall seasons in the country.
The colors generally peak sometime around the first or second week of October, oftentimes lingering throughout much of November. Because each area sees color at different times, there always at least one leaf peeping destination.
Here are 10 fun ways to get into the fall spirit in Western North Carolina
1. Stroll around the Botanical Gardens of Asheville
A walk around the serene Botanical Gardens is a must anytime of the year. Even moreso during the colorful fall season. The best part of all, admission is totally free! Although quite small at just 10 acres, a walk around the gardens is a nice break from the city. The small non-profit has been around for 58 years. To this day, they are still dedicated to preserving native plants.
- Location: 151 W .T. Weaver Blvd, Asheville, NC 28804
- Hours: 10am-4pm everyday (opens at Noon on Sundays)
2. Enjoy a cup of coffee as you gaze at the fall foliage
Asheville has no shortage of local coffee shops. While no fall season is complete without at least one trip to Starbucks’ for their trademark Pumpkin Spice Latte, several Asheville shops offer their own version of fall’s best indulgence. Malaprop’s Cafe and Old Europe both offer a tasty seasonal latte. Old Europe also offers the most tantalizing display of pastries – try the pumpkin cheesecake!
Or better yet, simply enjoy a quality cup of coffee at any local coffeehouse. Many shops feature a beautiful patio where you can enjoy the fall ambiance.
Izzy’s Coffeehouse, located in a cozy house just west of downtown, offers a nice little patio. Take a seat outside and enjoy the lovely weather and colorful trees. The beans are sourced from top roasters like Stumptown and Counter Culture. Izzy’s is by far the best place in town for a high quality coffee in a charming setting.
- Location: 976 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
- Hours: 7:30am-6pm (Mon-Fri), Sat & Sun 8-6pm
3. Take a hike
While the city of Asheville itself is not a hotspot for hiking, there are numerous national forests and state parks within a reasonably close drive. Whether you are an avid hiker, or simply seeking a quick, quiet nature stroll, options abound throughout the region. The weather this time of year is just perfect (relatively dry with temps in the 60-70 degree range) for exploring the outdoors. The Catawba Falls trail, a moderate 2 mile trek, features a 100 foot waterfall. At just a 25 minute drive, it’s one of the closest waterfalls to the city.
While everyone has heard of the extravagant Biltmore Estate, many do not know that there are 22 miles of trails on-site, most of which are blazing with color each autumn. Graveyard Fields is another favorite with both visitors and locals due to the great leaf peeping opportunities & beautiful waterfall views. Perhaps the best of all is the Triple falls trailhead at Dupont State Forest. A relatively easy hike leads you to 3 scenic waterfalls. Being in the company of the beautiful hues of the season makes a fall hike that much better.
- Catawba Falls trailhead – 3074 Catawba River Rd, Old Fort, NC 28762
- Graveyard Fields -Milepost 418 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Dupont State Forest -Staton Rd Cedar Mountain, NC 28718
4. Attend a fall festival
Asheville offers an endless lineup of festivals throughout the year. You will find a particularly interesting assortment of seasonal fun as soon as September rolls around.
A few of the best-of-the-best for getting into the fall spirit include Oktoberfest, the Brewgrass Festival (sample over 100 craft beers), the Asheville Holiday Parade (a festive annual celebration held the Saturday before Thanksgiving), the Apple Harvest fest (a celebration of all things apple in the charming small town of Waynesville), and Cider Fest NC (sample craft cider along the French Broad River). Be on the lookout for the October Fine Arts festival located in lively Pack Square (pictured above).
If you are looking for something a bit more active, there are a handful of festive Halloween and Turkey Trot 5ks. Races are a great way to burn off some of those extra holiday calories!
Check out the monthly lineup of events in Asheville.
5. Drive a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway, commonly referred to as “America’s favorite drive,” stretches on for 469 miles, connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The drive is incredibly scenic, and thus, heavily visited throughout the year. Despite the traffic, autumn is by far the best time to take in the beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains.
Points of interest include scenic overlooks, hiking trails, waterfalls, picnicking areas, and the Biltmore Estate. The immense variety of attractions means you choose between a quick sightseeing ride or a multi day outing, depending on how much time you have and how far you are willing to drive!
Must-see sights within a relatively short drive of Asheville:
- Linville Falls -a scenic hike to a 90 foot waterfall
- The Folk Art Center -a fantastic museum dedicated to Appalachian arts
- Chimney Rock State Park -challenge yourself to a 499 step climb up the rock for amazing panoramic views of the region
Although it’s a bit out of the way at nearly 2 hours, the mile high suspension bridge at Grandfather is definitely worthy of the drive!
6. Pick out the perfect pumpkin at a local farm
Nothing says fall quite like taking a hayride out to the patch and searching for that perfect pumpkin. So skip the pre-picked pumpkins at the supermarket in favor of a fun old-fashioned outing to the farm. Luckily, there are no shortage of family-run farms and orchards in the area. A few of the best include Grandad’s Apples & Stepp’s Hilcrest Orchard in nearby Hendersonville and Hickory Nut Gap farm in Fairview.
In addition to pumpkin patches, many of these farms offer other seasonal activities like apple picking, corn mazes, seasonal treats, haunted houses, and more.
7. Check out an incredible waterfall
The Western North Carolina region is loaded with gorgeous waterfalls, most requiring no more than an easy nature stroll. Those looking to avoid a hike might want to consider a roadside options. With more than 250 waterfalls, the area is appropriately nicknamed the “Land of Waterfalls.” Most of the stunning falls are located within Transylvania County (home to the highest concentration of waterfalls on the East coast). Nevertheless, there are beauties scattered throughout the western portion of the state.
Looking Glass falls near Brevard is the best bang-for-your-buck option as this waterfall is not only stunning, but also one of the most easily accessible roadside falls in the state. Another great option nearby is the Triple Falls trailhead at Dupont State Forest. A short hike of just over 2 miles leads you to 3 peaceful waterfalls, one of which was featured in “The Hunger Games.” Dry Falls and Whitewater Falls are 2 other scenic option which require no more than a 1/2 mile RT trek.
8. Plan a daytrip to Grandfather Mountain
Grandfather Mountain, one of the highest peaks in the Blue Ridge mountains, is a place renown for its’ challenging hiking terrain and spectacular vistas. At a mere hour and a half drive from Asheville, this trip is well worth the journey while you are in the area. Grandfather Mountain is most famous for a mile high swinging suspension bridge which looks out unto the mesmerizing mountains.
Besides walking across the bridge, there are over 12 miles of hiking trails, scenic overlooks, a small zoo, and a great visitors center. Fall is a really great time to plan your visit as the foliage is quite spectacular. Nevertheless, a trip here is still recommended anytime you are in the area!
Location: 9872 Highway 105 South, Banner Elk, NC 28604
9. Stroll around downtown
Asheville’s downtown continues to receive praise for its’ lively & continuously expanding foodie scene. New restaurants continue to open up and old favorites continue to draw in repeat locals and tourists. The streets are lined with eclectic restaurants, craft breweries, coffeehouses, funky shops, local boutiques, museums, and numerous attractions.
Downtown is the perfect place to take a stroll during the fall season as beautiful colorful trees surround the lovely historic buildings. The diverse offerings, artsy vibe, and art deco buildings have earned it the nickname “Paris of the South.” During the month of October, there are numerous seasonal events to take part in. From ghost tours, to haunted trolley tours, to special screenings of Hocus Pocus and other Halloween classics at local theaters, there really is something for every Halloween lover out there.
10. Dine with a view
The Omni Park Grove Inn hands down offers the most spectacular views of the Blue Ridge mountains in town. The scenery surrounding the resort is absolutely breathtaking. Whether or not you are staying at the resort, you should plan for a visit, if anything, just to take in the mesmerizing mountain scenery.
The Blue Ridge Artisanal Buffet is one of the best breakfast destinations in town. First off, the views via the floor-to-ceiling windows are incredible all year round, but even more so during the dazzling autumn season. Second, the buffet spread is quite impressive, including made-to-order omelets, a chia seed pudding bar, a doughnut bar, and much more! A wonderful dining experience away from the downtown crowds!
Location: 290 Macon Ave, Asheville, NC 28804